The real problem with Early Decision? We don’t even read the rules.

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An all-too-familiar conversation resurfaced this week about Early Decision programs at elite colleges, spurred mainly by a superficial retread of an article from Inside Higher Ed. The article cites a study from the Center for American Progress that provides some background information on the negative impacts of early admission programs for both students of color and those coming from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

Our perspective: There’s no denying the structural racism built into the American education system. Inequality of access and opportunity are rampant. You won’t hear arguments from us on that front. The real problem lies in the need for EVERYONE to both thoroughly read and then publicize the Early Decision section (II., A., 3., page 5) of the NACAC Code of Ethics and Professional Practices (CEPP). In that section, the point no one ever seems to pick up on is this, under subsection iii:

“Should a student who applies for financial aid not be offered an award that makes attendance possible, the student may request a release from the Early Decision commitment.”

You read that correctly. The student can be released from their ED commitment.

And, most of the colleges with significant early decision programs are the same colleges that meet the full demonstrated need of admitted students. So, let’s assume any student, regardless of ethnic or socioeconomic background, is prepared to apply to their top choice school as an early decision applicant. They are admitted to said school, the financial aid package comes back, the student crunches the numbers, and they can’t make it work. They can be released. It’s not up to the school to decide what “makes attendance possible.”

Let’s be clear, this wouldn’t be the preferred path to take. But it is terribly important to make sure that we’re all on the same page about the fact that all students can and should take advantage of early decision programs, should they be ready to commit at the time of applying.

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